Mrs. Glegg is a “handsome” woman, like all the Dodson sisters, but she dislikes buying new clothes, and her dress is out of fashion and slightly moldy. She complains that her sisters Deane and Pullet are late, but when Mrs. Tulliver offers her a cheesecake and a glass of wine, Mrs. Glegg sniffs that she never eats between meals. She also complains that the lunch is being served too late in the day, which violates typical Dodson practice. And she accuses Mr. Tulliver of wasting all the family money on lawsuits, leaving nothing for Tom and Maggie.
Mrs. Glegg’s actions display the Dodson’s intolerance to comic effect. Mrs. Glegg is so convinced that the Dodson way of life is correct and proper, that she takes issue with the time that Mrs. Tulliver serves lunch—complaining that the Dodsons always eat lunch early, and Mrs. Tulliver is serving it too late. Such preoccupation with trivial matters of household management demonstrates the rigidity of the code of conduct that dominates every aspect of life in this community.
Mrs. Tulliver is relieved when Mrs. Pullet arrives, dressed in a comically large silk dress and accompanied by her husband, Mr. Pullet, who is much shorter than her. Mrs. Pullet is crying, and informs her sisters that old Mrs. Sutton has died of the dropsy. Mrs. Glegg scolds her for carrying on about people outside the family, since she thinks she shouldn’t care about people who aren’t family members. But the narrator remarks that Mrs. Pullet can afford to do so, since she married a “gentleman farmer” and lives a life of leisure. Mrs. Tulliver, Maggie, and Tom all prefer Mrs. Pullet to the bad-tempered Mrs. Glegg. Mrs. Pullet, for her part, thinks it’s a shame that Mrs. Tulliver has such “naughty, awkward children,” whom she thinks take after the Tulliver side of the family rather than the Dodson side.
Mrs. Glegg’s attitude toward Mrs. Pullet’s grief over the death of a neighbor demonstrates Mrs. Glegg’s extreme loyalty to her family and contempt for outsiders. For Mrs. Glegg, it isn’t worth crying about anyone who isn't a Dodson—suggesting that loyalty to family takes precedent over all other values, including compassion. Mrs. Glegg also criticizes Mrs. Tulliver for Tom and Maggie’s “naughty” behavior in terms that emphasize the difference between insiders (Dodsons) and outsiders (the Tullivers and everyone else). By suggesting that Tom and Maggie get their bad behavior from their Tulliver blood, Mrs. Glegg demonstrates her stunning lack of tolerance for people outside of her immediate family circle.
Mrs. Deane arrives with her daughter, Lucy, and Mrs. Tulliver thinks it’s a shame that her own daughter doesn’t have such pretty blonde curls. Maggie greets Lucy warmly, but doesn’t like the attentions of Mrs. Glegg, who talks to the children as if she considers them “rather idiotic” and criticizes Maggie’s messy dark hair. Lucy asks if she can stay to play with the Tulliver siblings. The narrator explains that Mr. Deane is a manager for a company called Guest & Co, and that the Deanes are doing much better than anyone had anticipated.
Everyone in the family seems to unfavorably compare the rebellious and “awkward” Maggie with Lucy, who is always perfectly well-behaved. This contrast between the two girls is symbolized by their hair. Lucy’s hair is blonde and curly, a popular style for nineteenth-century British women. Maggie’s hair is dark, straight, and unruly, symbolizing her subversion of traditional gender roles.
Mrs. Tulliver tells Maggie to go upstairs and brush her hair. Maggie goes to the attic with Tom and cuts off her hair, hoping that she won’t have to hear any complaints and criticisms anymore. She very quickly regrets what she’s done, however, realizing that she looks ridiculous. As she sits on the floor and cries, refusing to come down to dinner, the narrator remarks on how difficult it is to recall the real pain everyone felt as children, even when their troubles were supposedly “trivial.”
The narrator points out that the emotional turmoil of childhood can have far-reaching effects into adulthood. For example, Maggie's attempt to cut off her hair—and her subsequent regret and humiliation—prefigures the struggles she will have later in life as she navigates the expectations for women in her community.
Tom persuades Maggie to come down to dinner, but she soon regrets it, since Mrs. Tulliver shrieks, and her aunts and uncles begin criticizing and shouting at her. Mr. Tulliver, however, defends her and “takes her part,” which Maggie finds very comforting.
Although Maggie is subjected to judgment and intolerance from most of her family, the sympathy of even one person can make a great deal of difference. Mr. Tulliver’s habit of “taking her part” thus makes Maggie feel very close with him.
Mr. Tulliver sends the children outside so he can announce his decision regarding Tom’s education to the family, explaining that he wants Tom to go into business rather than inheriting the family farm. The uncles are perplexed as to why Mr. Tulliver would send Tom to a clergyman. Indeed, the narrator comments that Mr. Pullet barely knows what a clergyman is. Mrs. Glegg protests that it makes little sense to send a boy to school when he has no financial prospects. Mr. Tulliver takes offense at this and begins quarreling with Mrs. Glegg, who points out that she has loaned money to the Tullivers.
Mr. Tulliver's decision to send Tom to school perplexes Tom’s aunts and uncles, demonstrating their provinciality and lack of respect for education. For Mrs. Glegg, education is linked only to future financial prospects. She sees no reason for Tom to go to school if he doesn't stand to inherit a fortune, suggesting that she sees knowledge as the province of the wealthy. In contrast, Mr. Tulliver sees education as a way to position Tom to enter into the business world rather than agriculture, thereby improving Tom’s lot in life.
Mrs. Glegg leaves in a huff, and the other women go outside to see to the children. Mr. Tulliver is pleased to be able to discuss politics with Mr. Deane, whom he greatly admires. They discuss the Duke of Wellington, a prominent politician and military hero of the Battle of Waterloo, and the “Catholic Question”—the question of whether Catholics in England should be allowed to vote and openly practice their religion. The men are afraid that greater religious tolerance would lead to the country being “utterly the prey of Papists and Radicals.”
People in the town of St. Ogg’s are not only intolerant towards their family members and neighbors. During this time, most people in England were Protestant, but a bill in Parliament was proposed to allow for greater religious tolerance for Catholics. Mr. Tulliver and Mr. Deane’s fear of this bill (and of people they call “Papists and Radicals”) reveals their prejudice towards all people who are different from them and thus considered threatening.